Qualcomm Unveils LTE Plans for India

Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) shook up the mobile broadband market today with plans to bid for 2.3GHz spectrum in the upcoming auction in India. If successful, the company plans to introduce TD-LTE technology into the Indian market with the help of local network operator partners. (See India Watch: The Road to 3G and Qualcomm to Bid for Indian LTE Spectrum.)

The move is interesting on many levels if Qualcomm is successful, though there are many hurdles for the company to leap before it can achieve its aims.

The main potential impact of this move is that it could help create a global market for TD-LTE technology, which, currently, has found significant support only in China -- China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), specifically. (See Motorola's Shanghai Hope and China Mobile Fast-Tracks TD-LTE .)

A new face for 2.3GHz in India
If Qualcomm is successful, it would provide a whole new dimension to the Indian mobile market, and likely force the current wireless service providers, such as Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), Reliance Communications Ltd. , Tata Teleservices Ltd. , and Vodafone India , to rethink their strategies.

Qualcomm plans to bid for spectrum in the BWA (broadband wireless access) auction, where an unpaired slot of 20MHz in the 2.3GHz band is available in each of India's service circles. (See A Guide to India's Telecom Market to find out more about the circles, including a map.)

Until now, the BWA spectrum had been considered of interest to WiMax service providers: Bringing TD-LTE into the equation provides a whole new slant on what could be done with that spectrum, because the technology is capable, theoretically, of delivering downlink connections of 100 Mbit/s or more. Having such capabilities would enhance the potential for broadband service uptake in India, something the country's government is keen to promote.

Two slots of 20MHz spectrum are available in each circle in the 2.3GHz band. An additional slot has already been reserved in each circle for the state-owned carriers, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) .

This raises the prospect of Qualcomm going head-to-head with one or more WiMax players in the auction. And if Qualcomm is ready to bid for spectrum, and then team up with a local network operator to deploy a TD-LTE network, might not Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), for example, consider doing likewise from the WiMax camp?

Adds a twist to 3G auction process
What makes the scenario even more interesting is that the BWA spectrum auction takes place after the auction of 2.1GHz spectrum, which will be used for 3G/WCDMA services in India.

Here's the current timetable for the auction of new spectrum in India:

Table 1: India's 3G/BWA Auction Process Timetable
Date Action
March 19 Deadline for applications from companies wanting to participate in the 3G and BWA auctions
March 23 Identities and ownership details of hopeful bidders published
March 26 Bidder ownership compliance certificates issued
March 30 Pre-qualification of bidders
April 5/6 Mock auctions
April 9 3G spectrum auction begins, and will last as long as the bidding continues
April ? BWA auction begins two days after the end of the 3G spectrum auction

This means that India's 3G hopefuls, including such carriers as Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications, could find themselves bidding for new spectrum without knowing whether they face future competition from rivals developing services using TD-LTE or WiMax technology.

Of course, those operators might choose to use any 3G spectrum they win in the auction for voice services -- they could all use the extra capacity for voice -- and team with Qualcomm in the 2.3GHz band for the delivery of data services. There were a number of different permutations around voice and data service plans before Qualcomm's announcement, and now there are many more.

A boost to TD-LTE's global potential
If Qualcomm is successful in the auction, it would team up with a local network operator or operators (as required by the auction's conditions) to create a local joint venture, help in the rollout of TD-LTE infrastructure and associated ecosystem (devices, applications), and then exit the venture.

"By participating in India's BWA spectrum auction, Qualcomm can foster the accelerated deployment of TD-LTE," Qualcomm noted today in its press release.

And this, really, is the main aim for Qualcomm -- to boost the deployment of TD-LTE (also known as TDD, or Time-Division Duplex LTE) technology.

TD-LTE is one of two flavors of Long Term Evolution (LTE), the other being FDD-LTE (Frequency-Division Duplex LTE), which has been more widely adopted to date because of the suitability of the spectrum made available in markets in North America, Western Europe, and Asia/Pacific. (See Who Makes What: LTE Equipment.)

Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown notes that 2.3GHz airwaves have mostly been regarded as WiMax spectrum, but he says TD-LTE could potentially be widely used in India and Indonesia, both of which are auctioning suitable 2.3GHz spectrum, as well as in China, where it is already being used by China Mobile.

If the technology is deployed in those three markets, which have a combined population of 2.7 billion people (roughly 40 percent of the world's total population of 6.8 billion), then a significant market would be created for TD-LTE products.

"This move is mainly about creating a global ecosystem around TD-LTE at 2.3GHz, with India and Indonesia due to allocate spectrum this year and next. If TD-LTE was adopted in three of the most populous countries in the world, it would create the opportunity for economies of scale that would benefit the entire LTE ecosystem," says Brown.

And the industry support from the technology supply side is already there, as the two main chip vendors, Qualcomm and ST-Ericsson , and others such as Sequans Communications , support TD-LTE in their basebands, and the infrastructure vendors support the standard in their standing multi-technology network infrastructures. (See AlcaLu Sets TD-LTE Record, Continuous Computing Supports TD-LTE, China Mobile Selects Sequans for LTE Chips, AlcaLu Joins China Mobile LTE Trial, Ericsson Demos TD-LTE Interop, Motorola Passes TD-LTE Test, Huawei Builds TD-LTE Trial Net, ZTE Demos TD-LTE, and Nokia Siemens Targets TD-LTE.)

China Mobile, in particular, will want to see Qualcomm succeed with its plans in India. "China Mobile needs international support for TD-LTE. It doesn't want to be isolated with only a small vendor ecosystem to work with. Getting the Indian market behind the technology would help to get the volumes going," notes Brown.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

digits 12/5/2012 | 4:40:58 PM
re: Qualcomm Unveils LTE Plans for India


Nice post - thanks.

It certainly seems that WiMax is coming under pressure, and that the major mobile operators may look to use any 3G spectrum they get in 2.1GHz for voice and use BWA spectrum for data (but not using WiMax).

Interesting times!


kumaramitabh 12/5/2012 | 4:40:58 PM
re: Qualcomm Unveils LTE Plans for India India BWA Auctions: Look through 3D glasses!
The list of bidders for prime WiMAX bands in India of 2.3 GHz and 2.5 GHz is now out. The list of bidders appears to be surprising at first: It is Qualcomm, Bharti, Rcom,Idea,Vodafone, Spice and Tata Tele amongst others.
This might look surprising considering the present businesses these companies are in. But if you don 3D glasses which enable you to look deep behind the scene, the business models become quite clear. It is well known that none of these companies( including Qualcomm) have any major experience in WiMAX and definitely no love for it. On the other hand, the giants of the WiMAX industry seem to be busy in things more important.
However with WRC07 having approved the use of the OFDMA-TDD interface (used in Mobile WiMAX) as one of the interfaces for 3G and LTE, the scene has changed completely. WiMAXers may rightly find later that the BWA spectrum gets dedicated for mobile services under 3G amongst other uses.
The strategy would be good as the BWA spectrum is not so keenly contested as the 3G spectrum and provides much wider bandwidths of 2x10 MHz against 2x5 MHz in 3G. Working off one slot in 3G will be like doing a tightrope walk particularly in crowded markets which are the only places where these will get to be used. It is also common knowledge that with users shifting away from CDMA 2000 networks, the bandwidth has been already deployed as EV-DO which is a 3G technology. Hence nothing revolutionary will happen just with someone winning a 3G auction- something which cannot be done today.
On the other hand, the BWA spectrum is much more promising in terms of delivering applications with high bandwidth requirements and that is its key advantage. Using it for LTE or 3G is a non brainer in the present scenario. But looks like that the wait for WiMAX may turn out to be a mirage of the hot Indian summers when the services are expected to be launched.

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